Who doesn’t love to relax in a Muskoka chair (or Adirondack chair as our neighbours to the south call it)! Several years ago, the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) sponsored a challenge asking for willing participants to create a unique Muskoka chair that would appeal to their visitors during the summer months.
OSC aims to inspire a lifelong journey of curiosity, discovery and action to create a better future for the planet. But all that is rounded out by a downright fun experience when you visit! Hubs and I have racked up so many great and memorable experiences each time we go, that we jumped at the chance to team up and give the chair challenge a go. We had a blast lending our creative talent to designing one of the chairs that would ultimately be displayed around the grounds at OSC!
A science connection was naturally something to consider, however it also needed to be comfortable to sit in, withstand the elements that an outdoor chair would be exposed to and withstand the attention and affection (aka wear and tear) that their visitors would bestow upon it!
Each team was given a dissembled chair in a box, and the rest was up to us. We started by sanding all the pieces of wood that made up the chair.
Rather than do the obvious thing and incorporate a science theme, I decided to take a different approach to the challenge; one that no one else would think of. I found out a long time ago through a friend, and many visitors are probably unaware of this, but did you know that all the exhibits at OSC are conceived, designed, built and finished right on-site by OSC staff? Yes indeed, it takes the collaboration of many people to create the interesting, informative and interactive exhibits that are on display — and they do it in a way that is as green as possible!
Armed with this knowledge, I wanted our Muskoka chair to pay tribute to some of the people who are ‘behind the scenes’ in Exhibit Fabrication: namely the designers, wood workers and finishers.
Since every good concept must start with a plan, I knew that part of developing great experiences for their visitors would start with a ‘blueprint’ and hoped there would be extras hanging around and gathering dust. Why not découpage some of these to our chair? By recycling them, we could pay homage to all the exhibit fabricators while being environmentally friendly. I guess you could say that we turned blueprints ‘green’!
I was able to secure extra blueprint copies of the Living Earth exhibit – a fitting theme as every element we used was recycled and/or earth friendly.
I lined up all the slats, and positioned the blue prints over them so they would all read perfectly once assembled. When I was happy with the layout, I ran the side of a pencil around each outline to ‘score it’ so I could faintly see where to cut each piece. I didn’t use the pencil lead because I didn’t want to erase any remaining marks after they were cut, but I did use it to lightly number the back of the paper and corresponding wood so the order wouldn’t get mixed up. Then I glued the blueprints to the wood using a 1:2 mixture of water and glue to thin it out. When all the slats were finished I moved onto the arms (seen below):
Because of the size of the chair, I had to overlap several blueprints. By laying it all out first to visualize it, I was able to come up with an interesting idea for the back of the chair! I found that one of the blueprints in the set had a circular pattern rendered on it. It turned on a lightbulb: why don’t we incorporate the Science Centre logo into the design in recognition of the graphics department?
I love that OSC’s logo connects in such a way that it forms a trillium: the provincial flower of Ontario since 1937!
When it came to fabricating the logo, I didn’t want to completely mask the beauty of the blueprints (I also wanted to create a peek-a-boo effect with the trillium) so I came up with the idea of cutting out the circles from recycled coloured tissue paper. When découpaged over the blueprint you could still make out the details through the tissue and once sprayed with a clear finish it was even better; it worked like a charm!
Tissue paper OSC logo superimposed onto bluepint
Next, we upcycled an old wooden shipping pallet and brought it to life as a footstool and cup holder to accompany our chair (an ode to OSC wood workers). Each piece was sanded smooth, as we did with the chair, to better accept the découpage treatment.
Salvaged shipping pallet turned into slats and sides for footstool
I wanted each slat of our footstool to be representative of some of OSC’s exhibit halls – to tie in the displays that at one time all started out as blueprints! I used one blueprint and overprinted it with seven of the exhibit hall names. Since the width of the footstool was wider than I was able to print, I added in the red, blue and green tissue paper once again to make up the width.
The project took up space on our dining room table and hubs’ workship for several weeks, but it was well worth it because we had so much fun while we worked on it together!
Footstool slats made from an upcycled shipping pallet
Creating the pattern for the cup holder
Hubs glued and clamped together two pieces of the pallet to gain enough width for the top of the cup holder, then cut out the shape with a jigsaw.
The finished cup holder came together nicely; who would’ve guessed it was made from a pallet?
We wanted a pop of colour to tie the cup holder into the OSC logo. Hubs tested a few stains and ended up choosing a red dye for the accent colour.
Our chair, footstool and cup holder were protected from the elements with water based varnish and dye, reducing the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VoCs) into the air – and recognizing the contribution of OSC’s finishing department.
We sprayed all the pieces individually and then screwed the whole chair together. Next, we assembled the footstool and mounted the cup holder we fashioned from the pallet.
Before we gathered in a room at the Science Centre for the throwdown, hubs made a last minute purchase in the gift shop. He found a coin bank in the shape of a can with OSC’s logo on it and purchased it to top off the cup holder as a final touch.
All the submissions were fascinating as you’ll see below. We placed second and all the chairs were put out on display where visitors to OSC could admire and enjoy them! Many years have passed since this challenge though, so I don’t know if any of these chairs are still on display.
The winning chair was this Breathe Look Dream chair which featured a living roof! It was stained using elements such as grass, steel wool, carrots, tea, turmeric etc., combined with vinegar and seeped in a mason jar. The canopy used birch wood felled in the ice storm and wood framing from a demolished deck. The plant trays used in the green roof were left over from annuals planted by City of Toronto workers. Best of all, the plant materials in the gutters of the chair were curated to repel mosquitoes: Basil, Rosemary, Citronella, Bee Balm, Marigold, Lavendar and Catmint.
The Tensegri Chair boasted a halo water misting unit and a human powered cooling fan (using a crank on the chair arm); all welcome features for those hot and humid Toronto summer days!
Another cooling apparatus chair had a drink cooler and an adjustable canopy shaped like a leaf; it was a real head turner!
Here’s the Solarific chair – which protects from the sun and harnesses its energy too. Along with the solar lights, the pencils decorating the arms absorb the solar rays to produce a glow-in-the-dark effect at night.
I loved the message on the seat marked by the words “Your Curious Belongs Here” (an OSC motto). Cute!
The OSC Camp chair sings the praises of summer day camp. OSC has been keeping young minds happy and active in the summer with a week of interactive discovery where kids can make new friends, take part in exciting experiments and embark on unforgettable science adventures! I wish I could’ve gone there when I was a kid!
In retrospect, the only thing I would do differently is to spray a few more layers of topcoat onto the entire chair. The trick to making this endure the elements better is in spraying many light coats of water-based varnish to seal in the paper and keep it from lifting. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could build up the topcoat, so it did suffer a bit once it was put on display. If I were to create a découpage chair for my own home, I would situate it outside where it wouldn’t be directly exposed to the elements – like a 3-season porch or under an awning.
One day when I get around to making a chair for our own use at home, I think it would be fun to incorporate something personal to us. I would enlarge either a layout of our own house, a satellite view of our street or even an vintage map of our neighbourhood for the découpage element. Maybe I’d even use my Birdz of a Feather logo as the tissue paper element on the back of the chair 🙂
Although these chairs were designed specifically for the Ontario Science Centre, you could easily adopt some of these ideas to make a chair for your own home; the ideas are endless!
Speaking of endless, there’s a huge variety of experiences for every age to take in at OSC; it is more than a great place for kids! If you’re ever in the Toronto area (or just haven’t visited for a while), you should definitely check out what’s on at the Ontario Science Centre and drop in! I know that Hubs and I are due for a visit soon 🙂
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